Bridgestone/Firestone's Lampe testifies before Congress

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Here is a complete transcript of John Lampe's testimony before the joint subcommittees of the House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce yesterday. Lampe is chairman, CEO and president of Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.

"Chairman Stearns, Chairman Greenwood, Chairman Tauzin, and distinguished committee members, I’m John Lampe, CEO and president of Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. Thank you for holding this hearing and inviting me to testify today. I appreciate the hard work on these issues by the members of this committee and the other members and their staff.

"Mr. Chairman, it’s no secret that this past year has been a struggle for us. We’ve learned a lot since we were here the last time, some of it we’ve learned the hard way. But as a result, we’re more responsive -- to the American public, to our customers, to Congress and to NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). We’re doing what’s right. Our 45,000 employees are a great team. They’re fully committed to making safe, quality tires and to regaining the public’s trust. Yeah, we’ve been hit hard. But I believe with all my heart, we’re going to make it.

"First, let’s talk about our tires. Let me assure you that Firestone tires on the road today are safe. And the real world data proves it. The 13 million tires that Ford is replacing have a claims rate of .0009 percent -- that’s nine out of every one million tires. Most of those claims are on the Ford Explorer. The identical tire is on the Ford Ranger, and yet tread separation claims on the Ranger are eight times lower than on the Explorer.

"And if that weren’t enough, Wilderness AT tires on General Motors vehicles have only two tread separation claims on more than 3.1 million tires that we’ve provided. And in the two instances where there were claims, neither resulted in any accidents. Also, several of the tire lines that Ford is replacing have never even had a single claim. The bottom line: Replacing good tires with other tires is a diversionary tactic and won’t increase customer safety.

"We’ve also conducted an extensive array of scientific tests comparing our tires to competitive tires. This testing supports the real world data:

* We performed peel tests to measure the amount of force needed to tear the belts apart.

* We conducted SAE high-speed tests.

* We performed belt edge temperature tests to see if the internal temperatures of our tires are the same as other tires in the market place.

"And these are just some of the tests we performed. But in every test, the Wilderness AT tires performed within industry norms, often outperforming our rivals. Our testing confirms what we’ve been saying all along -– our tires are safe, and we have the data to prove it.

"Now, let’s compare our testing to Ford’s testing. We used standard industry testing procedures. Ford, on the other hand, did not. What little they’ve shared with us reveals that Ford’s testing was, at best, unscientific and, at worst, misleading.

"Ford took new Goodyear tires and compared them with old Firestone tires, some of which were nine years old. But when you compare the same-age tires based on Ford’s own data, our tires perform as well as the competitive tires and, in many cases, better.

"Ford ignored internal tire temperatures, the temperatures that matter when detecting belt separations. Ford instead chose to test surface temperatures. And I don’t know why.

"And, as the Wall Street Journal reported, Ford did not use the same inflation pressure levels and loads when testing Firestone tires against Goodyear tires. Don’t we need an apples to apples comparison here?

"Finally, Ford’s projections of future Firestone tire failures are purely speculative. They’re not based on real world data. With hazard plots, you can make the lines go anywhere you like based on the assumptions you choose.

"Next Mr. Chairman, I must say this: There is something wrong with the Ford Explorer. The testing and accident data we have submitted prove it. When I was here last year, I said that you could take all of our tires off the Explorer and serious rollover accidents would still occur. And unfortunately, that’s exactly what’s happening.

"But it didn’t have to be this way. We at Firestone asked Ford to work with us, so that together we could look at the vehicle as well as the tire. But Ford refused. So we had no choice. We had to go it alone. Ford left us no other option.

"Mr. Chairman, these are the facts:

* The loss of tread or air in a tire shouldn’t cause a driver to lose control of the vehicle. The driver should be able to pull over, not roll over. Even Ford’s own expert, Carr Engineering, agrees with that.

* Dr. Dennis Guenther, one of the country’s most highly regarded experts in the field of vehicle dynamics who often works with NHTSA, found that when a rear tire separates on some models of the Explorer, the vehicle goes from a slight understeer condition, where the back end follows the front as in normal driving, to a dangerous oversteer condition, where the rear tires can spin out like you’re on ice. According to Dr. Guenther, both the transition to oversteer and oversteer itself often make it a dangerous situation for the average driver to maintain directional control of the Explorer at normal highway speeds after a tire separation.

* The real world data supports Dr. Guenther’s findings. The Florida Traffic Crash Database shows that for 1994 through 2000 model year vehicles registered in Florida, the Explorer rolls over twice as much as all other comparable SUVs in single vehicle, non-tire related highway accidents.

* Last year, this committee asked Firestone why we didn’t do more when reports of tread separations came out of Venezuela. Now there are new reports from the Venezuelan consumer protection agency that the Explorer continues to roll over with other brands of tires. In fact, since May 2000, there have been 43 judicially confirmed Explorer rollover crashes in Venezuela, all on competitor tires. In the last 10 days alone, four people have been fatally injured in two separate Ford Explorer rollover accidents, again involving other brands of tires.

"Surely, these warning signs cannot and should not be ignored. As I’ve said before, Ford can replace all of our Wilderness AT tires, but Explorers will continue to roll over. And we need to understand why. We owe it to the men and women who make our tires, our stores and dealers who sell our tires, and the people on the roads and highways who rely on our tires.

"No one cares more about the safety of the people who travel on our tires than we do. We’re doing our part. We’re taking responsibility for our products. We did a massive recall. And now we’re doing what’s right by asking the tough questions about the Ford Explorer.

"One of our nation’s greatest industrial pioneers said, 'Don’t find fault, find a remedy.' Since the very beginning, Ford has only wanted to find fault, blaming our tires. We, on the other hand, have said that the vehicle/tire interaction needs to be examined in order to find a remedy. By the way, the man who said 'don’t find fault, find a remedy' was Henry Ford.

"I wish I could still say with pride that Ford is one of our best customers, and I sincerely hope there comes a day in the future when Bridgestone/Firestone can do business with Ford again. But that day won’t come until they answer the tough questions about the Explorer.

"I would like to commend Chairman Tauzin for urging NHTSA to examine the vehicle and tire issues in a balanced way. There are very hard questions that need to be answered:

* Why is the Explorer so much more likely to roll over in tire related crashes?

* If it’s just a tire issue, why are Explorers continuing to roll over in Venezuela in high numbers even after Ford has replaced all the Firestone tires?

* Why is the Explorer harder to control after rear tread separations than other SUVs?

* Why do our same tires perform so well on other vehicles?

"Firestone will continue to work with the government to get the answers the American public deserves to these and other hard questions. I’m calling on Mr. (Jacques) Nasser and Ford to come forward in the same spirit and support a NHTSA investigation of the vehicle issues.

"Thank you again for inviting me to testify. I welcome the opportunity to answer your questions."

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